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Project to Revive Corridor Hard on Small Businesses

Wed August 29, 2007 - Midwest Edition
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CLEVELAND (AP) — A nearly $200 million project to spur development along a retail corridor once known as “millionaire’s row” is expected to be completed on time next year, but some restaurants and shops along Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue are seeing fewer customers because of the ongoing street construction.

Plenty of people smiled when the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority broke ground three years ago on the Euclid Corridor Project.

The plan, 20 years in the making, is to narrow the avenue from six traffic lanes to two and create a bus rapid transit corridor in the center. The 7-mi. (11 km) stretch — now lined with vacant storefronts — will run from downtown to museums, theaters and college campuses in the city’s University Circle neighborhood.

But many small businesses along the route have reported 50 to 80 percent drops in revenue for extended periods.

Lost business due to the roadwork and a sagging local economy caused the New Best Gyros and Pizza House to close in November after nearly 40 years in operation.

Deborah Price fell behind in rent on her flower shop, Thoughtful Expressions, after the economy and the corridor’s long-term construction shrank profits. Cleveland Athletic Club officials said the 99-year-old establishment is on the verge of bankruptcy, partly because of the corridor project.

The project, underwritten by the U.S. Department of Transportation as a test to find an alternative to costly commuter rail lines, promises an increase of thousands of daily bus riders along an express line connecting downtown to University Circle.

Shop owners and critics worry that well-to-do shoppers and commuters, already used to relatively light car traffic in the city, will turn up their noses at bus riding.

The city is working with five banks to secure $250,000 in low-interest loans to help pay for rent and payroll until business picks up for suffering shop owners along the corridor.

Euclid Avenue — once home to mansions owned by industrialists including John D. Rockefeller and Samuel Mather — should eventually entice more visitors, who would boost existing businesses and attract new ones, said Kevin Schmotzer, who oversees small-business growth for the city.

Already, one developer is planning an upscale condominium project, while another is seeking to convert a block into a mix of condos, rentals, retail and offices.

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